GREEN BAY, Wis. — Part of Ryan Griffin likely felt like he was seeing the same scene as last year play out.
He made most of his throws throughout camp and entered the preseason finale in the same situation. After watching Luke McCown complete all of his passes to start Thursday’s game against the Green Bay Packers, Griffin was handed the reins.
That’s typically not a good thing. The New Orleans Saints quarterback who threw the most passes in the preseason finale each of the past four years did not ending up making the team. And since coach Sean Payton took over in 2006, the quarterback with the most attempts ended up making the team only three times: Chase Daniel in 2010 and Jamie Martin in 2006 and 2007.
Third-round pick Garrett Grayson, who played the second half, actually threw the most passes in this contest. But considering his draft stock and the hope that he could develop into the long-term answer at quarterback, he doesn’t figure into the battle to be Drew Brees’ backup after the Saints lost 38-10 at Lambeau Field.
In some ways, Griffin entered the game on the ropes. In the battle of the backups, the burden of history was his to overcome. And the fact that he played less than a minute against the Houston Texans last week and threw an interception on one of his three attempts did little to erase that perception. Still, he feels he did everything he could have done throughout the preseason.
“I felt like I progressed. It’s not up to me; we’ll see what happens,” Griffin said. “I felt good about everything. We’ll see how it goes.”
Much like last preseason, when McCown went 4-for-4 on the opening drive, the veteran backup was again perfect on the opening series. McCown completed all five of his attempts for 82 yards and hit all the notes. He had a deep pass for 45 yards to Brandon Coleman, hit his underneath routes and capped it by finding Willie Snead for a 7-yard score.
Griffin wasn’t as sharp. He left plays on the field. On a second-and-3 on his first drive from the 26-yard line, he overthrew Snead down the left sideline for what would have been a touchdown. Later, on third-and-goal, he stared down Orson Charles and threw an incompletion. It was unclear whether he had a man open on the right side, but he never would have known if he did.
That’s not to say Griffin played poorly. He completed 7 of 13 passes for 56 yards. Outside of a few missed opportunities such as the aforementioned hiccups, he made most of the throws he should have made.
“I would have liked to have a touchdown at the end (of the first drive),” Griffin said. “From there it was a couple three-and-outs that were unfortunate. I thought I was seeing everything pretty well and it went pretty good.”
One could nitpick his ball placement or decision-making. There was one completed pass that required Coleman to stretch out that could have easily been placed on the receiver’s numbers, but it wasn’t a poor performance.
In some ways, Griffin displayed growth throughout the preseason from where he was last year. But some of the issues he battled last year, such as ball placement, were still on display.
What Griffin will be left wondering is whether his performance in the past month was strong enough to keep him on the team. After being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane two years ago, Griffin has failed to make the 53-man roster coming out of camp each year. He received some time on the roster during his first season after the St. Louis Rams came sniffing, but by and large he has spent the majority of his time on the practice squad.
The roster must be trimmed to 53 names by 3 p.m. Saturday. It’s not impossible that Griffin will make the team, but he’s certainly not a lock to make it over McCown, who has endured his own struggles this preseason. But if the coaching staff uses this game to break any ties, McCown likely took a step ahead.
Griffin retains practice squad eligibility. The issue he could come up against if he fails to make the roster is that there could be three other quarterbacks on the team: Brees, Grayson and McCown. Keeping a fourth guy around might be difficult. There were times during camp when the coaching staff had trouble getting everyone reps, and Grayson will need to have opportunities in practice to further his development.
The sand has fallen on Griffin’s potential, and Grayson is now the future. For Griffin to make the team, the judges must rule in his favor over McCown.
“You can’t just go in there and think you made the team or not made the team,” Griffin said. “You never know what’s going to happen, especially as the backup quarterback. You’re expendable when it comes to moving roster spots around.”
After Thursday’s game, it looks like the best he can hope for is a split decision.